Blue Reflection is a Japanese roleplaying game for the Playstation 4 and Steam Gaming platforms by developer Gust, and is published by Tecmo Koei games. Unlike most RPG's that make it to western shores, Blue Reflection trades high-tension medieval or hard sci-fi battle-scapes for lushly designed fantasy worlds juxtaposed against a backdrop of modern high school life.
Part of GUST's "Beautiful Girls Festival" trilogy of games, which also includes Atelier Firis and Nights of Azure 2, Blue Reflection offers a female-centered story based around emotional empathy, identity acceptance, and, yep, fighting crazy monsters!
Players take on the role of Hinako (Hina) Shirai, a fifteen year-old former ballet star whose injured knee prematurely ended her career. Heading to high school for the first time since her disappearance from public view, Hina is directionless and hopeless until she runs into a fellow student who begins glowing, and appears frozen in time. From there, Hina is thrust into an beautiful and ethereal plane where she regains her full range of motion and an idealized physical form, and is promptly attacked by a roaming creature.
Enter fellow classmates Yuzu and Lime, who share her abilities to enter the "Common," which serves as the land where people's excess emotions go. Together with Yuzu and Lime, Hina sets out to help those with emotional crises by entering the Common and finding their emotional fragments to better empathize with their struggles. By doing this, and also defeating the alien forces known as Sepiroths that are somehow related to the outbreak of emotional distress across the city, Hina is promised the chance to dance again–at least, if the trio succeeds in their goal.
There are two main gameplay sections of Blue Reflection–the school, which is presented in a third-person view with a fixed camera angle, and the Common, which is third-person with a free-roaming camera. The school is where Hina speaks with classmates, accepts side missions, and can play on her smart phone.
Speaking to fellow students, and also going on hang-out sessions with them via interaction-less vignettes, builds your relationships with them, strengthening the assists they can grant your team later in battle. Likewise, most side missions center around finding a fellow student in crisis somewhere in or around the school, and entering the Common to defeat the demons that hover there to learn the core of their struggle. Completing missions also grants you attribute points, and allocating them to your character's different stats unlocks different move sets to be used in combat.
In addition to the school, Hina also goes home in the evenings, which grants players certain options that can affect her day and missions. She can study, play on her phone, or take a bath, during which she can think or massage her legs. While this sounds super sexual, it's actually not–while there are hints of the hyper-sexualization in Japanese gaming (and all gaming) we've come to expect, Blue Reflection clearly caters to a different set than the panty-crazed otaku; in fact, there's no real fan service to be found. This is not only refreshing, but it lets the characters actually feel like struggling high school girls, as their days are focused on normal tasks, and thoughts of love or sex are, at most, equal to all other pressing matters.
While in the school, Blue Reflection has a robust set of menu systems on hand to help players out–there's the smart phone, where Hina can text with her friends, access a jukebox feature, or play with her Neopet-inspired "Dark Cave" creature. There's also a map menu that indicates (roughly) where missions are, and allows for quick-travel (which is very welcome once you've got the school's basic layout down). There is also the primary menu, which is accessible in the Common as well, and allows for players to access a bestiary, allocate growth (experience) points, equip personality fragments to augment battle actions, and assign support characters to playable ones.
The Common is the more traditional "dungeon" in the game, though each area of the Common is quite different in appearance than traditional dungeons. Taking inspiration from the emotional problem sending Hina and her gang into the Common, the scenery may wind up being pastel desert-scapes, green-hued swamps, or funky vending-machine littered mountainous areas. There's a lot of variety, and it makes jumping into battle sections all the more interesting. While most side missions focus on defeating certain numbers of a particular or particular set of enemies, story missions tend to focus on finding and collecting personality fragments, which are generally guarded by a mini-boss. These fragments, once in hand, can be equipped to abilities (like materia) to offer additional buffs or effects. They can be quite powerful, and some skills can accept quite a few fragments at a time.
While the basic battle system is the familiar turn-based fare of most JRPG's, Blue Reflection's shining difference is the "knockback" system. The order in which characters and enemies act in Blue Reflection is indicated by representative icons along the top of the screen, all of which move at the same speed towards the point that indicates they can act. Many attacks and skills feature certain strengths of knockback, and by using them effectively against enemies that are weak to them, players can actually move that enemy back in line, thus preventing them from attacking as often as they would naturally. Effective use of this system can decimate your opponent, letting you get several attacks in while they may only get one.
Likewise, in Sephiroth battles, which serve as the big boss battles that can take place in the "real " world instead of the Common, managing knockback is key. If you're not careful, you'll be on the losing end of managing the order of actions, and get your bum handed to you.
In addition to knockback, there's plenty of stat and equipment management for RPG lovers to latch on to, such as the assist acts granted by building relationships at school, and upgrading your characters in such a way that you unlock the skill sets most useful to your play style.
There are only a few minor squabbles present in Blue Reflection at the time of our review, namely a few confusing mission directions (example: a character found inside the school near the courtyard is said to be "in the courtyard"), and several typos. None of these affected understanding, however, and once players are aware that directions to locations are general, not specific, missions are relatively easy to locate.
graphics and sound
The graphics are pleasantly pastel, and there aren't many harsh edges or stark colors to take away from the meditative vibe. This is a nice change from games with a high tension level, and the fact that Blue Reflection still feels soothing while also providing ample gameplay options puts a lot of indie games that serve only as "experiences" to shame.
The audio, too, matches the tone well, and even the more upbeat battle music seems consciously somber. Leaving it on jukebox while watching the rain hit your window would be apropos.
All of this, along with the focus on emotional empathy as a core idea in the gameplay, does succeed in giving Blue Reflection a "feminine" feel; that shouldn't, by any means, deter men from trying it out. The characters are relate-able regardless of gender, the gameplay is unique and engaging, and the pace is nicely mellowed. After playing it, one hopes for more iterations in its burgeoning sub-genre.
All in all, while it's calm pace and presentation may not please fans craving instant sword-swinging carnage, anyone looking for a breath of fresh JRPG-air should pick up a copy of Blue Reflection without hesitation.
Beautiful design, sweet melodies and story, and engaging strategic gameplay will provide hours of enjoyment for those of us who love turn-based roleplaying games. What's more, you'll be supporting a genre of games aimed at "people" rather than "men," and that's a worthy goal that will help all of us get the most of what gaming, as a medium, has to offer.
|+ Beautiful design||+ Slower pace may deter some players|
|+ Unique feminine vibe||+ Some unclear mission directions|
|+ Lots of various distractions and grind options||+ More than a few typos, some in menus|
|+ A nice departure from hard Sci-Fi and fantasy|